The first week of the month is always a little quieter because there are no council meetings, but there is still plenty of news to share.
On Monday, the City announced that the first of the Safe Sleeping Sites is opening at 310 Garfield. Lane Transit District made this five-acre lot available for this purpose and the site is set up to accommodate up to 55 vehicles. Many of the new residents of this site are people who have been living in vehicles in West Eugene. St. Vincent De Paul is managing the site that offers water, electricity, and sanitation. This is the first of five sites that Council has approved as part of the larger commitment to create 500 safe sleeping sites. Implementation plans and neighborhood outreach are proceeding for an adjacent site at 410 Garfield, also to be managed by St. Vinnie’s, that will accommodate up to 90 tents inside a large warehouse. Two other sites approved by Council, one owned by Square One Villages on Roosevelt and Bethel and the other on Dani Street will add another 60 safe sleeping sites. The fifth site at Chase Commons will host 20 conestogas once a provider is identified.
This can’t happen fast enough. My inbox is filled every day with concerned or outraged emails about the impact of the tents and vehicles scattered throughout town. We are also experiencing serious criminal and plenty of nuisance behavior associated with some of the areas, particularly in West Eugene. I have also begun to receive more complaints about downtown, as the weather cools, the streateries have closed, and people are still working from home, the downtown can be a magnet for the wrong kind of behavior. It is hard to have enough eyes on the street, and our police are seriously stretched.
This brings me to the Community Safety Initiative (CSI) which is coming back for a second council work session on Monday. Staff will present the framework for targeting the allocations of CSI funds which can be adjusted based on the insights gained from the second round of community listening sessions and surveys last winter and spring. Decisions about specific allocations will be considered at the Budget Committee meetings later this month.
The week has also been encouraging with respect to our discussions about climate. On Monday, I joined the Climate Mayors in a meeting with the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Michael Regan. I have noted before that the Biden Administration maintains steady communication with local governments, and this meeting was focused on environmental justice. Administrator Regan made clear that the impact of climate on BIPOC and low-income communities is a priority and asked mayors to hold EPA accountable for this work.
On Thursday, the Metropolitan Planning Committee meeting hosted a presentation from Oregon Department of Transportation about the framework for updating the Oregon Transportation Plan. Last updated in 2006, the planning for this new plan recognizes and incorporates the tremendous changes in the policy, environmental, and transportation landscape. The framework is built on the recognition of “drivers of change” including social equity, climate and resiliency, and emerging technology. They are seeing the next era as an integrated system that aligns with our local Transportation System Plan and Climate Action Plan.
In the midst of the pandemic, the recent wildfire season, and the dislocation of so many unhoused people, it is sometimes hard to recognize what is changing for the better. But we have made big shifts in how we approach these major issues and in the investments made possible by the infusion of federal dollars. It reminds me of federal leadership during the dustbowl and depression of the 1930s. Our country has struggled and suffered before and come through it with new perspectives and new programs. We’re doing that again -- working our way out of this cascade of crises week by week.